“Peru is a country like no other – wildly contrasting landscapes, a unique culture and plenty of adventure activities on offer”
For all those youngsters (and young at heart) who still secretly dream of living the James Bond lifestyle, Peru may just be the country for you: It’s first world enough to make travelling manageable and enjoyable, but it’s still got that wild-west, do-as-you-please kind of feel to it. Just to keep things interesting, I decided to bring my plucky and courageous grandparents with me. The first potential challenge was getting off the aeroplane: Our first stop, the city of Cusco, has an altitude of 3400m, which means that the air is so thin it can cause pretty bad altitude sickness. Luckily it takes something sterner than that to keep my grandparents down, and we victoriously emerged to begin our Peruvian adventure.
Cusco is a town that deserves at least a week to explore all the ancient Inca ruins and buildings. We squeezed as much as we could into two days, acclimatising not only to the altitude but also to the strange food, the lack of English and the extremely cold evenings. Just when we were starting to get to grips with it all, we were due to begin our jungle trip. We set off early in the morning by bus, and were soon driving along a thin little road with a 200 metre drop off the side – not for the faint-hearted!
The next morning we started to really feel the jungle vibe, as we entered Manu National Park and caught a boat down to the lodge (trying all the while to avoid some of the tribes still living in parts of the reserve).The next few days passed in a happy blur. The price of a jungle trip is pretty steep, but it does involve top quality food, great accommodation and knowledgeable guides, which makes it good value for money. The highlights of the trip were spending a morning watching parrots at a salt lick, stopping off at a hidden hot spring for a warm bath on a rainy boat trip, and paddling around a quiet lake watching giant otters catching fish. The trip also brought out our adventurous side: We went fishing for piranhas (fried piranha tastes surprisingly good), we found some pretty big anaconda tracks through the reeds, and one evening we tried unsuccessfully to catch a caiman (smaller version of the crocodile).
Two days later we were on the go again, this time catching a train through the highlands and on towards Lake Titicaca. There were singing and dancing locals performing on the train, and the rowdy Norwegians didn’t need too much encouragement to make some noise so it was a very festive train ride. All too soon we were at the town on Puno, on the shores of Lake Titicaca (at an impressive 3800m above sea level it’s the highest navigable lake in the world). The main tourist attraction is a boat ride to the floating islands. These are inhabited by the Uros, a local tribe who somehow believe that their blood is black, making them immune to the cold. They cut and tie big bunches of reeds, which are used to make islands to live on and boats to go fishing with. Walking around on an island that is made entirely from reeds is well worth the trip, and while the town itself is a bit touristy in places, overall it’s still memorable.
Next up on our whirlwind tour of Peru was a visit to the famous ruins of Machu Picchu. Being one of the 7 wonders of the world, it’s the country’s main attraction. The grandparents decided that walking the Inca Trail, a four day hike which ends at Machu Picchu, might be a step too far, so we settled for a 2 day tour of the ruins. These take a full day to explore properly, and the history and meaning of different areas are really interesting (even to non-history nerds). The town below the ruins, Aqua Calientes (meaning warm waters) has a lot of good restaurants and hotels, and a relaxing hot spring for tired hikers. We got to see a bit more of the town than we would have liked as the train back to Cusco (our only exit) was closed by striking workers. This gave me the time to pluck up the courage to eat a hamster, which is a delicacy in Peru, but definitely not one of my favourite meals. Grandpa also got the chance to tackle his fear of heights by going on a ‘hike’ which would be classed as something a lot more adventurous in any other part of the world.
Last on our agenda was Lima, the capital city. This is a modern first-world metropolis, and it doesn’t have the same alien and exciting feel to it that the rest of Peru does. However, it is built on the cliff face, with wonderful views over the ocean. A quick paragliding trip off this cliff was the perfect way to re-generate some excitement, although I would recommend finding an English speaking pilot. Sadly mine seemed hell-bent on seeing how close he could he could get to the beachfront hotels without physically hitting them, which as a first-time flyer I found pretty petrifying. With shaky legs and an improved prayer life, we returned to solid ground, only for me to be put to shame by a Labrador and his pilot/owner calmly coming into land behind us. And to this day, whenever I think of Peru, out of all the possible memories, all I can see is a serene dog happily floating along through the sky…